New opportunities in space commercialization
On November 28 to 30, 2018, experts in space commercialization attended the Bankinter Innovation Foundation's Future Trends Forum in Madrid. They identified the following as the most viable, future business endeavors: the creation of a LEO market, the expansion of Internet connectivity via satellite to the entire world, the democratization of space access and the collection and leveraging of Earth observation data.
It goes without saying that none of these opportunities can truly be exploited without proper financing, which is why the experts discussed funding possibilities for each business opportunity mentioned above.
- A sustainable, LEO market: the majority of experts agreed that it would be possible to fund ventures in this realm. Some expect this to be challenging, while others do not share this opinion.
- Colonization, mining and agriculture in space: most experts clearly stated that it would be impossible to secure funding within the next 10 years.
- Contrary to other ventures, satellite connectivity is a well-established market. However, it is always possible for a disruption to flip this market on its head, where semi-decent ideas can easily attract funding.
- Opinion is split regarding the democratization of space access. Most experts see it as possible but difficult to finance, while others think we will have to wait a decade for funding and that, even then, it will not be highly likely.
- Out of all the business opportunities discussed, experts agree that data processing is the easiest to finance, slightly less difficult than Internet connectivity via satellite.
At any rate, positive returns are the main goal for any investor in space commercialization. This is the case no matter the type of investor or their motivations: a venture capital fund, an investment firm or a millionaire that may not even care if they end up making money, just to name a few examples. They are the lifeblood of this entrepreneurial ecosystem; without them, nothing is possible. Yet if they keep their investments in the market, they may afford it stability.
We must keep in mind that if these business opportunities fail, the investors (if they are venture capitalists or angel investors) will most likely survive. This is not necessarily the case for investment funds, private investors or the market.
Generally, these are large, long-term investments from investors that have the resources that allow them to wait it out to see returns. Furthermore, these investments are complicated, and investors must be aware of what they are getting into before they invest.
Governments can lend a hand by promoting private investment through trying to guarantee regulatory stability. They can become involved by attracting newcomers and by even agreeing to pay above-market prices to guarantee market stability at the very beginning.
Private companies, on the other hand, must be able to keep a cool head in the face of (definite) adversity and strive to optimize processes and shorten production cycles.
Creating a market in low Earth orbitSee more
Creating new materials and building structures in orbit.See more
Building Earth's communication infrastructure from space.See more
Access to space
Democratization of access to spaceSee more
Capitalizing on data collected in space.See more
New espatial economyConference by Roberto Battiston, former President of the Italian Space Agency, at the 31ST meeting of the Future Trends Forum. Robert talks about the transition from a spatial economy of manufacturing to a spatial economy increasingly services-based.
Risks of space commercialization.
The Future Trends Forum experts analyzed the possible risks that will face the commercialization of space in its development, emphasizing four: legal risks, organizational risks in the sector, business risks and the cybersecurity.
Legal risks of space commercialization
Experts have agreed that the lack of updated global space legislation might pose a serious problem that could inhibit the development of the space industry.
It is true that the Outer Space Treaty from 1967 exists and that we subsequently created the Rescue Agreement in 1968, the Space Liability Convention in 1972, the Registration Convention in 1975 and the Moon Treaty in 1979. All of these were developed within the framework of the United Nations COPUOS, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. However, these agreements are non-binding and have different levels of accession. Additionally, they are almost 40 years old, which means that the social, political and, above all, technological reality has significantly changed since then. These agreements are also reached by consensus, which is increasingly harder to find.
Among the things that need regulation are political law for each country (jurisdiction concerning vertical space, satellites, platforms and space vehicles), relations among countries concerning jurisdiction, the use of satellites, communications, espionage and even the way to proceed in the event that we come into contact with aliens.
Yet there are problems that we need to solve more urgently, such as limitations regarding technology exportation, which hinder (if not prevent) cooperation among companies from different countries; China is a clear example of an emerging power in the space market with whom we must find a way to collaborate.
We will also need to implement regulations on the use of the radio spectrum, which is a scarce commodity and will be increasingly demanded due to the increasing amount of satellites in orbit. There is a technological solution that might help in this regard: optical data transmission, which still needs time to become the standard even though it is already working very well in systems such as the EDRS from the European Space Agency.
Legislación en el espacioConferencia de John Logsdon, Profesor emérito del Space Policy Institute en George Washington University, en la XXXI reunión del Future Trends Forum. El profesor Logsdon expone cómo ha sido la regulación y legislación del espacio y a qué retos se enfrenta.
Business risks involved in commercializing space
The first problem is the lack of human capital, both for engineering positions and for management positions. How can we attract that talent? How can we prevent those people from going into other markets where they can make more money and gain more acknowledgment?
Another problem is that we need to be able to develop business models that convince investors, legislators and potential employees about doing things on the low Earth orbit. There are new viable business models in satellite constellations, because there have been investments of millions of dollars that so far have done absolutely nothing, not even launching a satellite. We also need to evaluate if there can be a business model in the moon or beyond the low Earth orbit.
Organizational risks involved in commercializing space.
On the one hand, it is necessary to have increasing access to space in order to prevent delays in the availability of launches from damaging the willingness of companies, institutions and other types of organizations of developing commercial activities in space. That capacity has to be affordable as well.
At the same time, that increase in capacity is going to cause more problems with space debris, which will require an international coordination and surveillance effort in terms of compliance with the agreements. In fact, Javier Ventura says it is a problem to comply with the protocols on space debris (since missions are more expensive) if others do not do it, no one forces them to and the agreements from the beginning of this decade are non-binding, as John Logsdon says.
It would also be important to achieve an increasing level of coordination when organizing activities involving several players in the market.
Los ordenadores a bordo son un cambio sustancial que ha ocurrido en el diseño de cohetes, naves, satélites, sondas espaciales y sus sistemas de control. Lo controlan todo en lugar de los automatismos más o menos sofisticados de antaño; tiene mucho que ver, de hecho con la miniaturización de la que hablaba Esther Dyson.
Y esto es a la vez una ventaja y un inconveniente. Una ventaja porque nos permite diseñar cohetes, naves, satélites, sondas espaciales y sistemas de control cada vez más sofisticados e «inteligentes», cada vez más capaces de hacer más cosas y en muchas ocasiones de salir de apuros casi por sí mismos gracias a unos programas cada vez más sofisticados.
Pero como nos recordaba Ram Levi también es un problema porque abre todos estos sistemas a un posible ciberataque. Según Levi los ciberataques se están volviendo mucho más sofisticados no sólo con un objetivo monetario sino en ocasiones con un objetivo político. Y eso también puede propagarse al espacio porque el espacio, por definición, es global, está interconectado. Y todo el mundo ve las ventajas que tiene. Pero lo controlan ordenadores, no se puede lanzar y manejar un satélite sin un ordenador basado en una estación terrestre. Y esto presenta vulnerabilidades, porque tenemos que utilizar dispositivos comerciales estándar para poder reducir los costes. Con lo que, por mucho que una empresa se empeñe en mantener unos protocolos de ciberseguridad robustos y adecuados si su cadena de suministros no es segura, entonces todo su esfuerzo será en vano. Y asegurar una cadena de suministros es totalmente diferente de asegurar los sistemas de la empresa; es algo que hay que tener muy presente.
Según Levi tenemos que cambiar nuestra forma de pensar. Como dijo Walt Disney, “Si puedes soñarlo, puedes hacerlo”. Los hackers dicen “Si puedes soñarlo, puedes hackearlo”.
Forum experts talked about several goals for governmental agencies and legislators in order to promote the commercial use of space. They deem that it is necessary that governments at least:
- Do not hinder.
- Facilitate the exportation of products and technologies and its regulation.
- Promote cooperation among people, institutions and countries.
- Facilitate access to already acquired knowledge.
- Provide security for private resources.
It would also be ideal if they:
- Clearly supported initiatives.
- Provided funding.
- Supported innovation.
- Participated in international cooperation.
- Provide access to their infrastructures and talent related to space.
In order to do so, they have a set of strengths and resources such as vast experience in working in space and developing collaborations with other governments and agencies. They also have the possibility of creating, implementing and ensuring compliance of regulations and laws, such as the one about allocating funds to these sorts of initiatives. Last but not least, they have facilities, staff and knowledge they have been accumulating over the last fifty years of space exploration.
Working with them entails a number of risks, such as the lack of flexibility typical of governmental bodies, the unpredictable nature when the people in charge are replaced, different interests that are not aligned with those of the industry, little flexibility when adapting to new players and, sometimes, the lack of necessary funding to work properly.
Why should companies go to space?
Cynthia explains the different phases in space exploration and why companies should go to space.
Investment in Space
Conference of Esther Dyson, founder of Way to Wellville, at 31ST meeting of the Future Trends Forum. Esther explains how the arrival of investors has stimulated better management of space companies.
Security in space
Ram Levi, expert in cybersecurity, explains what are the security challenges in space and how the use of space will affect the security of the Earth.